Rise Up And Curate! (Part 1 of 2): CINEFIST AND LIVE EVENTS

Today's guest post if from filmmaker Zak Forsman.

If you haven’t heard of CINEFIST yet, let me explain what it is: myself, Kevin Shah, Jamie Cobb, Neha Shah and Erik Reese -- all members of the Sabi Pictures family -- needed a new company to separate the production of our films from the distribution and exhibition of them. CINEFIST was born out of that need. When people ask, I say "it handles all things distribution and exhibition."

If you were to visit the web site you’d see that in addition to an online store (selling DVDs, soundtracks and posters), there is a section for our Quarterly Los Angeles Screening Series and some tools and services on the horizon like our own VOD portal, a private invitation-only community forum, and a digital cinema census. For the purposes of this article I’m going to focus on the screening series, why we started it and what we’ve learned about live events.

In September 2009, I was reading this blog, Ted's blog, and an new article entitled “18 Actions Towards A Sustainable Truly Free Film Community”. In that article he listed a number of areas where a member of our community could deepen their involvement through mentoring, collaborating, learning, evolving and more. As I went through the list, I was happy to note that we were doing each of these in one form or another with one exception -- curating. We weren’t involved in supporting other filmmakers’ work or elevating our local community’s awareness of the works we admired.

Around the same time, Jim Kirst of the Downtown Independent Theater in Los Angeles had invited me to program a regular night at his theater. He probably had something different in mind than what I proposed but he was happy to have us experiment with a new model. So we began with the following goals: To provide a path for an audience to discover independent films, to have filmmakers participate in box office revenue, and to elevate the level of audience participation in a theatrical setting.

I sought out ways for the audience to be involved in the curation process, in the hope that they would feel invested in the selection of films, giving them cause to return to each subsequent screening. Borrowing from something Lance Weiler pioneered at a FROM HERE TO AWESOME event, we created a system using Poll Everywhere, where the audience could watch two trailers, then use their cell phone to send in a keyword vote via text message, and see the results instantly on the theater’s screen.

In addition, we wanted to raise the perceived value of a $10 ticket, so we’ve coupled each screening with additional components like live bands and educational presentations. When we screened Tom Quinn’s The New Year Parade [VID 1, VID 2], his lead actor’s band played us out after a rewarding Q&A. At another, artist-entrepreneur Justin Evans did a two hour presentation [VID] on leveraging state and federal tax incentives to lower the risk of investing in microbudget features. This was followed by a screening of his film A Lonely Place For Dying, a Q&A and a live band featuring a member of the cast. Most recently, we invited filmmakers Gregory Bayne and Gary King to discuss their successful Kickstarter campaigns [VID] in a fireside chat before Gary’s newest film What’s Up Lovely:

We ended that night on the rooftop bar of the Downtown Independent Theater mingling with new fans and forging new friendships. That night in particular we had well over 50% of attendees sign-up for the CINEFIST mailing list.

Part Two continues tomorrow.

Zak Forsman
[Sabi Pictures | Twitter | Facebook]